Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Giving me what I need

Last week, I talked about my Quaker ministry for our Meeting's first Quaker Quest session, intended to draw those interested in Quakerism  into an informal experience of our unique worship and community. Several people told me they'd never heard the complete story, so I decided to share it here, in the two parts in which I presented.
Eight years ago, seemingly out of the blue, my daughter’s teacher called asking if I’d help in the art room with 40 first graders armed with scissors. I immediately said yes and found that every third day that school year became a blessing. Especially witnessing that kids from my own neighborbood in subsidized housing could really shine when expressing themselves. Marginalized elsewhere, they could be themselves when creating.
And, I held that idea for six years. It continued to haunt me and I was prayerful and consulted other Quakers about this over the years. We call this discernment.
As the idea grew stronger, I took a silent personal retreat in the woods to sort it all out.  I was randomly assigned to a cabin called “Simplicity.” On the table inside lay a Quaker pamphlet on simplicity. As I began to read, I understood why I was placed here: to clear my heart and do what Eileen Prevallet calls “listening for the decision, rather than making the decision.” She writes that “it comes from an inner silence in which a delicate inner sensor is at work… you know when the call is for you, and when it is not.”
I came away confident that Spirit was now calling me to act on this leading. After obtaining 2 Quaker grants, I rented a studio in an old classroom in a neighborhood repurposed school. It was in walking distance of me and the kids and there was no question that this was the spot to begin. With a lot of help and prayer, I began to piece together a program. I’d had the name, Artsy Fartsy Saturdays, a logo and list of volunteers in a folder tucked away for years. This was really happening.
That was over two years ago and Artsy Fartsy has attracted almost 20 regular kids, funding from ArtsWave that also supports the area biggies such as the Cincinnati Opera, Ballet and Art Museum, the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board (no better way to build self esteem and resistance to peer pressure and negative influences than a venue for self expression) and Cincinnati Friends Meeting.
Our mission is:
To provide local, at-risk middle schoolers with a safe, imaginative environment in their neighborhood to explore creative expression, be nurtured, tap their creativity, connect, share themselves, be heard and affirmed and become more of who they are. This is a place they can relax, be kids and express themselves.
I’m not sure this could have transpired without my grounding in Quakerism, which, most of all, has taught me the value of silence and deep listening. I would have never heard the call otherwise. There were people of faith who would actually listen to what seemed impossible, crazy or out of the box. They listened and supported this ministry from the beginning … even when I didn’t know, exactly, what it was. I have also felt very accompanied on this journey by the legacy of other Quakers over time and in this Meeting stepping out. It’s what we do.
I was privileged this summer to spend time in London with a book written by a Quaker ancestor in 1661. I had heard about Dorothea all of my life, even though our family had long ago left Quakerism. I returned 15 years ago. There is only one copy of her book and her story of being led to the Religious Society of Friends speaks to how I feel about Quakers and their support of ministry to which I have been called.
I heard they were a people could lay down their lives for one another, that they were of one heart and one minde.”
So while Artsy Fartsy, on the surface, seems to be about art, it’s more about showing kids with next to nothing that they are loved, valued and children of God through action and not words.  It is connecting hand to hand and heart to heart.
Here’s a poem written when a poet visited our first year by a now 8th grader, who spent last year as a mentor:
Artsy Fartsy is the best
Artsy Fartsy will pass the test
Artsy Fartsy is so much fun
Artsy Fartsy is number one.
You don’t come to fart.
You come to make art.
So come on down.
Bring a crown and not a frown.
But if you do, Artsy Fartsy
will turn that frown upside down.
So come on down to that old school.
Come on and grab your stool.
Sit and help us paint the scene.
Sit and make some masks and
grab a cape made for a queen
You feel like art’s a boor [bore]
come on down and see some more.
Did you know that Yoga’s a form?
Go through a maze with your finger,
It’s a labyrinth.
Artsy Fartsy is the best.
Artsy Fartsy will pass the test!!
I think she speaks for all of us involved!
• When has Spirit moved me to action?
• How did I test the leading?
• How was I able to give it time, letting it mature?
• What individuals and/or community encouraged and nurtured me?
• What have been the fruits of this action?

in the quietness
of solitude and
the woods

I waited on God,

who wrote upon
my heart in words

a dark and restless

night strove to 
erase them

in response, I

was summoned
to the labyrinth

walking through
tears of fear
to reach the heart

how can I possibly
do this? I asked

it is just
too much

I looked up
to see Jesus
there with me

"I will give
you what you need"

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